“I’m just like you…”
Said Simon Spier (portrayed by Nick Robinson) at the beginning of the groundbreaking film Love, Simon. The first major film to center on a gay love story tries to relate to a young adult audience, especially an LGBTQ audience.
But does Simon accurately reflect most LGBTQ (more specifically, gay) youth in the United States? Can LGBTQ viewers relate to him in a meaningful way? Well, let’s first start with what the film did well.
Love, Simon is a film that normalizes a gay love story without the tragedy that often accompanies such stories. Maybe that’s why critics and moviegoers alike fell in love with the film, giving it a 91% on rotten tomatoes. It’s a breath of fresh air in that LGBTQ youth can see a teen love story be just that, a teen love story. Sitting in the movie theatre, the audience’s collective “awwws” accompanied Simon’s kiss on the Ferris wheel, and their tears followed him when his mother gave her heartwarming speech. In the end, Love, Simon explores romance, friendship, and identity during the tumultuous teenage years.
…but, are you?
With that said, Love, Simon also excludes many LGBTQ experiences. The film takes place in a gay-friendly utopia; completely divorced from reality. With the exception of mild school bullying (which was resolved with a face-to-face apology), Simon’s world supports his sexuality. Below are some ways in which Simon’s world is different from many LGBTQ youths:
- Wealth. Love, Simon was filmed in an upper-class Atlanta neighborhood with a median household income of $149,361 (compared to the national average of $55,322). This blatant wealth gap is disturbing, as many LGBTQ youths endure homelessness, have little access to resources, and are disproportionately burdened by debt. Many LGBTQ youths cannot relate to a wealthy, white suburban family that has access to many resources.
- Acceptance. Everyone in this film is accepting. From school faculty, to family members, to friends, this film does not contain a hardline homophobe. This diverts from a world where nearly 40% of parents would be upset if their child came out as gay. Lack of acceptance, especially familial acceptance, can cause serious mental health issues. Additionally, gay conversion therapy is still widely legal across the U.S., subjecting minors to “corrective treatments.” The Spier family’s overwhelming acceptance of Simon is heartwarming but excludes the many LGBTQ youths who face mental health issues, internalized homophobia, and conversion therapy. To them, the Spier family is nothing like home.
- Homophobia. The only amount of homophobia present in the film was Simon’s father’s offhand jokes and school bullies. Before Simon even had a chance to intervene with the bullies, Ms. Albright (the drama teacher) stepped in and sent the credulous students to the principal’s office where they formally apologized. Simon’s father also apologizes for his insensitive jokes. But most LGBTQ individuals experience some form of unapologetic homophobia, and the laws and customs around the U.S. reflect this. For example, the state of Georgia (the movie’s setting) does not protect LGBTQ people in employment or hate crime laws. This is far from the gay-friendly suburbia presented to the audience.
These problems are just the tip of the iceberg. Dating, sexual health, and body image issues are more uniquely gay problems that the movie does not address.
With all of these issues in perspective, it’s easy to see how Simon does not portray most LGBTQ youth. Rather, Simon is Hollywood’s interpretation of what an easily marketable, safe, relatable-for-a-straight-audience gay male looks like. To be fair, nothing is wrong with the character of Simon. Rather, this easily-digestible gay romance can give straight audience members (and privileged LGBTQ individuals) a pat on the back. For all the allies watching, Love, Simon can be the sign that equality has been achieved. Look, a “normal” movie about a gay couple…look how happy everyone is…problem solved!
But that is far from the truth. While enjoying the film, we must not forget all of those who still face violence, discrimination, and injustice for being themselves. We all desire love, acceptance, and belonging. For those like Simon, these things are easily attainable, but for others, it’s still an upward battle.
What did you think of Love, Simon? Could you relate to the teenage protagonist? Let us know on Twitter using @GayBoyBible